Carolyn Hax: Brother's divorce complicates her life, friendships

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dear Carolyn,

I feel stuck. My older brother is going through a divorce. He has been living at my parents' for the last four months. My husband and I are currently renting a side studio off the family house, so we are all real cozy. I have invited my brother into my social life since he has few friends in the area.

One of my friends and my brother have an undeniable attraction for each other. This makes me uncomfortable because my brother just filed his divorce papers last week, and because my friend throws herself at my brother whenever she is around him. I do not want to be the facilitator of a relationship that might go bad, and have tried segregating my social events with them.

The last couple of weeks however, "Kate" has ended up hanging all over my brother yet again. I do not respect the way she is "teasing" him and feel like she is using me to get to him. I do not want to be her friend anymore, but I feel like Kate and my brother may end up dating and I do not want to be the [nasty] sister. His soon-to-be ex-wife decided I am one of the many scapegoats for their marital problems and I don't want to be in the same boat all over again.

In the middle again

Your efforts to stay out of this boat are on course to put you squarely back in it.

I won't pretend it's fun to be used, be it as a scapegoat or a matchmaking venue. Neither one, however, is the same as being in the middle of someone else's drama. That happens only when you consciously choose a role for yourself and start playing it.

By taking deliberate action to keep your friend away from your brother, you are making that kind of choice.

Your brother's divorce may be just in the zygote stage, and his getting involved with someone now might not be your idea of sound relationship practice, and your friend might not be the woman you'd choose for him, but: None of these changes the fact that he's an adult whose time is his own.

It's certainly okay for you, as his sister, to ask your brother how he feels about having Kate around so much. Make it clear that you know it's his business, and you just want to make sure he's okay with the amount of time she spends in your home.

You are also free, of course, to make your own choices socially. If you don't want to keep hosting your brother's flirtations, then it's okay to be busy or not home or whatever else would credibly keep people out of your corner of the family compound.

But underscore the word "credibly" in that suggestion; you're right to regard Kate as your brother's potential new girlfriend, and ducking or obstructing her will look like what it is. Have solid reasons for changing your plans.

Otherwise, though, please don't do anything that even resembles management of his decisions. Stay out of it, stay out of it, stay out of it. If a relationship happens, so be it, and if it goes bad, so be it.

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